The Importance of Purifying the Mind

Analysis of a given situation always needs to be taken in the proper context. Let us again listen to Dr. Feynman’s video that was in the previous post.

It is worthwhile to discuss the case of an icy surface to look a bit deeper than even Dr. Feynman did. He merely pointed out that there is no end to the sort of questions especially when a child keeps asking: “what is the reason for that?” at every step: “Why is Aunt Mimi in the hospital?” leads to the answer, “She fell on ice”. Then, “Why did she fall on ice?” leads to “Because ice is slippery”, which leads to, “Why is ice (and not concrete) slippery ?”.

Up to this point, the child (or an average adult) can understand each answer, BECAUSE based on their life experiences all those answers make sense. But the last question cannot be answered to the complete satisfaction of a child or an average adult, who does not have a background in physics: Unlike most other solids, ice has this peculiar property that when water is cooled, it expands when turning into ice. So, when Aunt Mimi stepped on ice, the pressure of her weight caused ice to shrink (i.e., become water), and thus a thin layer of water was formed between her shoes and ice, which causes her to slide and fall. Other solids tend to get more hardened under pressure, so there no slipping due to that particular cause.

  • Now one DOES NOT need to know that bit of physics to avoid falling on ice. What was needed to avoid falling was to have a keen sense of knowing that ice is slippery and needed to take necessary precautions.
  • May be Aunt Mimi was in an agitated state of mind and hurried out of the door without realizing that there was a thin sheet of ice on the driveway. If she was drunk, that would have also lead to the same result.  If she was in a calm, relaxed state of mind, she would have been more careful.
  • An agitated mind can be caused by excess greed and hate too. Most people do not realize this, but if we think back each of us can remember instances where we made bad decisions because of greedy or hateful state of mind. This is why getting into heated arguments can be risky, and people even kill in a moment of rage.

What the Buddha tried to convey was that we can truly understand the real nature of “this world” by “clearing up our minds”. There are five things called hindrances that cause our minds to be clouded; see, “Key to Calming the Mind – Five Hindrances“. These have accumulated via bad habits that we have developed over countless lives; see, for example, “Law of Attraction, Habits (Gathi), and Cravings (Asavas)“.

  • Each one has a different set of bad habits, but we all have them. Yet we can function “in this world” with that “baseline”(for example not fall while walking on ice), if we do not make it worse by substance abuse, making the mind agitated (by getting angry or overly greedy), etc.

Thus what all of us would normally do is to live our lives in this “baseline state of the mind” which does not allow us to see the true nature of “this world”. We are just carried by the tide without us trying to examine whether it is good idea to “just go with the flow”, do our best to make our lives better, and eventually die without knowing that all those life struggles were in vain at the end.

The worse thing is that the story does not end at death, but just moves on to another phase (rebirth), where we will be doing exactly the same again.

  • We have gone through this unending process for innumerable lives, and most those have been much worse than our current human life. When one “sees” the fruitlessness of our struggles to seek happiness in a “world” that is inherently not able to provide that, then one will seek to get out of “this world” by following the Noble Eightfold Path of the Buddha, and achieve permanent happiness.
  • This is the crux of the message of the Buddha.

We will be able to “see” the truth of what was said in the above paragraph (i.e., the true nature of “this world”),  if we start cleaning our minds to get rid of the five hindrances (see, “How to Calm the Mind” ).

But to do that, first we need to be able to look at the wider view of “this world” of the Buddha. Many people plunge into “practicing Dhamma” without even having an idea of the “world view” of the Buddha. How can one practice, if one does not know what the goal of the practice is? The goal could be three fold:

  1. to gain some kind of a peaceful state of mind in this life
  2. looking at a more longer range, to make sure one will have a better life also in the upcoming births,
  3. to be released from this cycle of rebirths filled with dissatisfaction, and to seek permanent happiness, Nibbana.

If the goal is one of the above three (and especially if (ii) and (iii)), then one needs to know what the complete “world view” of the Buddha was: This is the Buddha Dhamma.

It has been over 2500 years since the Buddha declared his message about the previously unknown wider world view. This has been distorted over these intervening time, and my goal is to provide a more sensible, logical view that is based on Theravada version.

Since many are “just looking”, and have no reason to believe the truth of this world view, I am going to present it as a theory. We will be continually testing this theory to see whether it meets the established scientific standards, because that is what I am used to as a scientist.

  • Many people, especially in the earlier times, made that decision on the enhanced EXPERIENCE as they followed the Path; as one moves along the Path, this EXPERIENCE starts to transcend the sensory experience. There is crucial difference between the empiricism based on the sensory experience (which was the philosophical doctrine promoted by John Locke and others in the early days of scientific revolution), and the vastly enhanced experience of a purified mind.

Now, once one understands what this wider world view is, then one can see that the solution to our problem existence does not depend on trying to probe deeper into “What is the reason for that?” at each step in an endless loop. We just do not have enough time in this life to learn all that.

  • Rather it is just a matter of purifying our minds, so that the mind can “see” through one’s own refined experience as one follows the Path.

Put succinctly, the Buddha discovered that the solution to the problem of the existence is to “see” the true nature of “this world”; this is even more complex than what the science is finding out.

  • But one only needs to see that “whole picture” and to realize that no matter where we are born, we will never find long lasting happiness “in this world”, because “this world” is inherently of the nature of ever-changing.
  • Everything “in this world” is in a constant flux, but we cannot “see” that because our minds are cluttered with the five hindrances.

Now let us take look at the other approach for “finding out all about this world”. This is the scientific approach (There are other religious approaches too, but I am going to stay away from that subject). This scientific approach started with the ancient Greeks, about at the same time that the Buddha lived.

  • So, we have two approaches: the Buddha’s is totally mind-based; the scientific method is matter-based.
  • Currently, most scientists are trying to figure out how the mind works in terms of the workings of brain, thought of as a very sophisticated computer. The Buddha Dhamma is completely consistent with the material aspects of science (as we will discuss), but in Buddha Dhamma, mind actually precedes matter; matter is secondary.

Let us go back to the case of slipping on ice that was discussed in Dr. Feynman’s video. In order to cope with an icy surface, all we need to know is to have prior EXPERIENCE with such a surface, and an alert mind (that is not distracted by alcohol, anger, lust, etc) to use that experience to cope with the situation. This is the mind approach.

  • When one carefully examines the “world view” within the Buddha Dhamma, one will be able to see that the problem of the existence is reduced to understanding the ever-changing nature of the world, without examining each part in minute detail. ALL PARTS of this world are of impermanent nature, and thus one can never maintain anything to one’s liking for long times.
  • That is all one needs to perceive, to really understand, not just to read about. This simple task is the hardest; that is what requires an effort. But first one needs to read about this “world view”.

On the other hand, one could keep going down the line of questions probing deeper to the causes as to why ice is slippery, why does water expand when it is cooled, the nature of chemical bonds, about electrons and protons, about quarks that make up those protons, etc.

  • It is quite true that this probing has led to many technological advances that we all enjoy today. I can write something on this site and get it to you within minutes; it is amazing and very beneficial. But my point is that all this “probing deeper” has not gotten us any closer to the questions on the existence. Right now science is approaching the limits of this probing, because now we know that all matter is just energy.
  • And even though we may benefit from the technological advances, such benefits can be enjoyed only for a brief moment (about 100 years) in the sansaric time scale. Buddha Dhamma provides a long-term solution.

What the Buddha stated 2500 years ago was that, in the end, there is no benefit in probing deeper into material properties as far as one’s existence is concerned. All one needs to realize is that no matter what we achieve, they are all transitory, not stable.  This cannot be done without purifying one’s mind.

  • When one truly comprehends the three characteristics  of existence (see, “Anicca, Dukkha, Anatta – True Meanings“), and thus the unsatisfactory nature of this existence, one will not seek to gain “material things” but will endeavor to achieve Nibbana. This only requires purification of one’s mind. It does not require examining the outside material world in detail.
  • When one goes deeper into the Buddha Dhamma, it becomes clear that mind energy is the basis of all existence. But that is a long story. We first need to get started and see whether the “broader world view” of the Buddha makes sense.

Next, “The Grand Unified Theory of Dhamma“,………

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